By Jenny Favret, RD
Jenny Favret, RD is a dietician with the Healthy Lifestyles Program at Duke University. The program focuses on empowering kids and families with the skills and knowledge needed to live a life of healthy eating and active lifestyles.
The holiday season has arrived…and so have the treats! It’s hard to ignore the fudge your neighbor brings over. And what about the eggnog sample in the grocery store? Add in those special holiday meals—complete with favorites that we only get this time of year—and it can begin to feel a bit like sensory overload!
Here are five tips to keep your family on a healthy eating path, without destroying the enjoyment that comes from celebratory eating:
1. Prevent Boredom Snacking. Many kids turn to food when they are bored over the holiday break from school. Help your child make a list of things to do INSTEAD of snacking if they are NOT hungry. Post the list in a visible place (like the fridge). Here are a few ideas to get the list started:
- Take a walk around the neighborhood…bundle up if it’s cold!
- Put on some music and dance
- Read an amazing book (visit the local library to stock up for the holiday break)
- Work on a craft
- Dust the furniture or run the vacuum cleaner…(ok, maybe not that fun, but a good distraction from eating!)
2. Plan for Snacks. Most kids get hungry at some point between meals. Replace constant “grazing” with one or two planned “sit down” snacks. Here are some balanced holiday snack ideas:
- “Red ants” on a log: Spread peanut butter on celery sticks and top with a few dried cranberries.
- “Green and red” English muffin pizza: Toast whole grain English muffin halves and top with a bit of pasta sauce*, shredded mozzarella cheese and thin slices of red and green bell pepper. Place in 375 degree oven until cheese begins to melt. *(Compare pasta sauces and choose one that is lower in sodium and that does NOT contain high fructose corn syrup).
- Fresh kale chips: Snip fresh kale into chip-size pieces (leaf part only). Toss with olive oil and a small amount of sea salt. Place on a baking sheet in a 375 degree oven. Stir often. “Chips” are done when they begin to appear dried out/brittle. Serve with a string cheese stick.
- Crisp apple slices with a handful of mixed nuts or sunflower seed kernels
3. Stick with Scheduled Meals. Amid the chaos of this busy time of year, try to stick with scheduled meals. Skipping a meal often means grabbing packaged, processed snack items when hunger hits AND it promotes overeating at the next meal.
4. Normalize Treats. Kids need to learn how to handle special treats. When allowed to choose some treats as part of an overall balanced diet, kids develop self-regulation skills. By contrast, kids who have been tightly controlled around treats tend to load up on them when given the chance.
5. Enjoy the Holiday Meals! Teach your family to partake of what they truly want to eat and to savor and enjoy each bite. Notice the feeling of being comfortably satisfied …and STOP eating. The leftovers will be there for when hunger strikes again.
Remember: our health depends largely on those day-to-day food and activity choices that we make for ourselves, rather than on the occasional overindulgence of treats and holiday meals.